Photo : Courtesy of Studioieffe di Dante Farricella
Besides their enhanced chances of subjection to violence or of being embroiled in crime either as victims or perpetrators, teens sleeping today in our cities' parks, upon shop doorsteps or 'sofa surfing' between friends and acquaintances often live in real peril of various forms of abuse by adults or older minors who observe their movements over time only to then take advantage of their powerlessness. Those in the know who work with these children are already familiar with the many hardships associated with their condition. Sexually-transmitted diseases among other dangers may result, and some young girls have even found themselves having to face pregnancies without access to the apposite care. Indeed the sense of vulnerability accompanying these and many other such cases has frequently seen these youth seeking fugitive solace in alcohol or substance abuse.
It is upon the poignant social ramifications within the EU of this developing situation of Children Rough Sleepers, or CRS, as well as its relationship to certain serious human rights concerns that MEP Cécile Kyenge will be focusing in an upcoming conference dedicated to this target population at the European Parliament in Brussels on the afternoon of December 10. At the event, a report detailing the latest findings on the current scope of CRS will be presented by Criminal Justice Professor Kate Moss of the University of Wolverhampton, project leader of a nine-strong consortium of research teams representing partner organizations from Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and the Netherlands. Financed by the EU's Daphne Programme, the study treats of a two-year investigation into the existing state of CRS in what territorially comprised 37% of Europe at project launch.
The ever-increasing presence of children rough sleepers within the urban centres of our post-industrial societies is often deemed to be the direct result of insufficient and/or inappropriate intervention. As can be expected, this is due in many cases to poor funding and diminished resources coupled with rising poverty, all of which begin annually to affect a greater number of minors Europewide, especially within the setting of an unabating economic crisis. To cite Italy as an example -and always in reference to individuals up to and including the age of 17- though formerly not unknown to Naples and Catania street children appear now in growing numbers in Rome and Bologna as well : visible new signs of what is viewed by some to be inattentive vigilance over child protection. However, treating of the EU at large and of CRS per se, in attempting to acceptably tally up their numbers a useful springboard has been to unpack the meaning(s) behind certain widely-used appellations referring to typologies of disadvantaged youth. Our aforementioned 'street children', for instance, may or may not qualify as CRS once we begin to notice a catalogue of similar such terms ostensibly warranting exclusion from this classification - their reference to minors notwithstanding.
Of course, these semantic challenges immediately necessitate some clear headway on our part in isolating the number of those 'lost' children on record in the EU whom we can reasonably assume to be still within the member states with at least some degree of certainty yet mindful of our inability to be entirely sure of their exact whereabouts. This raises the odds in favour of these youth having since become rough sleepers - albeit admittedly more by way of high possibility than by outright probability. Such children could remain unaccounted for owing to their having once been identified as 'unaccompanied minors', or UM, but of whom all trace has since been lost. Needless to say, the plight of these in particular remains no less weighty. An April 2012 national report published by the General Direction of Immigration and Integration of the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies lists health problems, sexual exploitation, physical self-harm and even suicide among the risks associated with the lifestyle such teens are forced by sheer circumstance to lead. However, as not an insignificant percentage applies to migrants, their ongoing comings and goings through parts of the EU over the course of any set period of time must render calculations touching their inclusion among CRS within a given country to be only estimative.
Other children too are reported missing after having run away either from their families, from foster care or from a host institution. But for the purposes of isolating our subjects under exam coherently and with some reliable numerical accuracy, an acknowledgement of either complementary or incongruous definitional considerations between UM, runaways and street children became at some stage serviceable to us in proceeding to plausible deductions by which to best pinpoint the target population. Reliable quantification has therefore been satisfactorily achieved thanks to updated data on missing persons released by police reports from the different states and via information supplied by various social services or by organizations, charitable or otherwise, which work in the field of child protection.
Respecting children rough sleepers in particular then, and despite territorial similarities, it was thus predictable from the outset that no two European states would exactly mirror each other in displaying the same causes, figures or concern areas. That said, indicators gleaned from best practices in existing intervention or pertaining to local patterns and regional proclivities have nonetheless proved helpful in forecasting fitting policy recommendations and mobilizing prevention strategies adequately tailored to remain in lock-step with a phenomenon we now begin to see developing to a disquieting scale. Indeed it is precisely with a view to jointly arriving at such synergetic solutions that subsequent to the conference a Round Table discussion at Brussels' Aloft Hotel on the morning of December 11 will bring together key policy makers, experts and academics as well as justice specialists and correctional services players.
For more information on the upcoming Children Rough Sleepers Conference and Round Table in Brussels on 10 and 11 December 2014 respectively, visit : http://agreenment.altervista.org/crs-conferences/